Artificial Intelligence (AI) is here to stay and change the way we live and do business forever. This may seem like a bold statement, but take a closer look. We already have self-driving cars, cashier-less grocery stores, robotic household servants, and other marvels of modern technology around us. They are much more than passing fads— they herald the dawn of the new business age.

Namely, the compound annual growth rate for global spending on AI is predicted to reach $57.6 billion by 2021. AI startups are sprouting up at a rapid pace, automation is on the roll across the industry sectors, and that is all just the beginning. Of course, small businesses have one big concern and that is the risk of blowing the budget. That is certainly not an option, but the million dollar question remains: does AI add enough value to the organization to justify spreading precious funds a bit thinner?

The Game has Changed

While advocates hail it as a game-changer and equalizer, skeptics denounce AI as a disruptive influence, even a threat to small businesses. Indeed, many entrepreneurs are leery of this development because of the allegedly steep costs of implementation. These notions echo what we have seen before: tech seismic shifts bringing disproportionate advantages to established corporations.

However, what gets overlook is the fact that this time around, we have a level playing field. The proliferation of plug-in tools, ready-made solutions, and affordable services has diminished if not eliminated the barriers to integrate AI. There are already so many nimble and agile organizations leading the way to innovation instead of playing catch up. After all, they stand to gain much and they can reap benefits faster than large and laggard companies.

To be more precise, AI has already yielded impressive results, mostly in terms of streamlining work processes and improving efficiencies across the board. For instance, in the education sector, it has reduced the men-hours spent on administrative tasks. Forward-thinking manufacturing companies have managed to trim hefty overhead costs and elsewhere, intelligent automation solutions are reshaping workflows and business models.

Creative industries are also hit by strong winds of change. You want to hire a reputable website design agency that employs AI and machine learning tools to deliver design solutions like the industry leaders. The same goes for top-performing marketing agencies that are utilizing AI for personalized marketing. They create highly-targeted ads relevant to users and are able to reach a much wider audience with automated systems.

A Strategic Approach

All of this is not to say that the AI revolution has fully unfolded. We are still in the early stages of adoption: According to Adobe, only 15% of all enterprises use AI. Things are moving fast, though, and in 12 months, this number is expected to more than double. And while many small businesses already experiment with some form of automation, 84% of enterprises believe AI holds the key to gaining a competitive edge.

Therefore, the best time to take action would be now. And I am not talking about merely buying a voice-search assistant like Siri or Alexa for your office. If you really want to become a digitally mature organization, you have to embrace innovation and put a refined AI strategy in place. The possible applications abound and range from generating employee engagement and making sales forecasts to automated end-to-end accounting and email marketing.

What you should probably consider right away is setting up AI frameworks for gathering and collecting business data, as well as producing actionable, real-time reports. Note that the process of transitioning from on-premise servers to cloud platforms is underway. Here, we see that AI leads to better and faster decision-making. The beauty of it is that one does not need to assemble huge data warehouses and carry out extensive infrastructure overhauls.

Basically, you can take advantage of third-party tools to connect your data directly to AI and machine-learning-powered solutions. That allows you to face the ocean of available data and come on top, whether you are pulling data in order to figure out product-market fit, understand consumer market segmentation, or optimize the sales funnel. Handling an endless amount of data manually is almost unimaginable in this day and age.

Providing Service Excellence
One other lucrative opportunity for small businesses is to use AI to take customer service to the next level. According to entrepreneur opinion surveys, this is the benefit that is second only to “freeing up time and getting more things done”. So far, it seems that niche services and products offered to consumer hold the most potential when it comes to improving the bottom line.

Likewise, chatbots are one facet of this trend consumers are quickly getting used to. These sophisticated virtual helpers are capable of tackling repetitive tasks like sorting tickets, answering common questions, solving practical problems, and coming up with recommendations. Not everyone is eager to “talk” with a computer program, but many companies have increased customer satisfaction and engagement with their help.

The list does not end here, but we need to conclude on one crucial note. Regardless of the specific field of implantation, AI is supposed to lead to fewer human errors, less time-consuming guesswork, and minimal resource waste. So, let automation work to your advantage, first and foremost on the back-end side of the spectrum. This should give you more time focus on priorities on the front-end, such as face-to-face customer service.

Ultimately, AI should make your life easier, not more complicated.

Time to Get Ahead of the Game

As it turns out, you do not need fat budgets and data goldmines to put AI tech to good use. The most advanced solutions and platforms are accessible to organizations of all sizes there, so there is no reason for small businesses to lag behind. They can compete at scale with top dogs and even lead the charge towards the cutting-edge frontier of the future. You have the opportunity to sustain growth while keeping expenditures in check. Thus, it is time to get down to business: move to the forefront of the industry and make strides towards your goals in 2018 and beyond.

Author's Bio: 

Kendrick Moss has written frequently on pregnancy and parenting issues, and is a mom of three (including one set of twins). She is an open-minded free spirit, always ready for new adventures. Faith, family and finances are the core of her value system.